Our subject in the current series of morceaux is death, or more properly life-after-death. While it would be morbid to over-focus on death as a subject, it’s a topic that does deserve some consideration, considering that it’s certainly in our future! I’m dealing with a few basics about death and the afterlife first, before beginning consideration of how the Church’s funeral liturgies reflect these truths.
We’ve dealt with the Last Judgment, when we will – if in heaven! – enjoy the “resurrection of the body”! In this morceau, I’d like to give a closer consideration to that blessed alternative of heaven. While a complete understanding of that blessed state lies beyond the knowledge of us who are still mortal, there is much that is known about heaven, and it’s well-worth focusing on.
First of all, it’s important to note that heaven is not best described as a place. As Pope St. John Paul II pointed out on occasion, the essential characteristic of heaven is that it is a state of being rather than a place as human language would commonly describe it. Places exist in space and time, which are very familiar to us on this side of death, but existence within eternity is of an entirely different sort.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church phrases it in its art. 1024, heaven is a perfect and eternal union with God, and “is the ultimate end and fulfilment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” It goes on to add that it is the very opposite of loneliness or isolation: “Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ” (art. 1026).
A favorite Catholic description of heaven calls it “the Beatific Vision,” that is, the direct, immediate and supernatural knowledge of God. We shall not only see God as He is, but shall be bound up in a perfect spiritual union with Him. Moreover, our intellects and wills will be perfected, so that not only will we have complete and perfect knowledge as God’s creatures, we will be incapable of sinning. (These characteristics are usually known as heavenly omniscience and impeccability.)
In sum, to get to heaven means a permanent state of joy and fulfillment, for we shall be united with God and indeed all creation in a blessed situation of perfection. While in the next morceau we will deal with our interaction already with the things of heaven, even now it’s clearly seen to be something wonderful and eminently desirable, wouldn’t you say?